In modern football, if you rank the players based on the distance covered, often you will see that the midfielders occupy the top, wingbacks come second, forwards in the third and probably, fullbacks at the fourth place. This doesn’t mean a professional fullback tends to walk (unless it’s Marcus Alonso, but that’s a story for another day).
If you created a poll on current Chelsea players asking who covers the most distance, the answer would definitely be Kante. However, if asked who works really hard, our captain Azpilicueta would be in the top 3 for sure. The man bleeds blue and that could very well be an understatement. Anyway, Azpi is 29 now and probably has 2-3 good years left in his tank. Therefore, it is only apt that we start looking for a long-term occupant for the right-back position.
Currently, we have Zappacosta as a backup option for Azpi. Zappa arrived from Torino during the last day of summer transfer window in 2017. After almost a year and a half at Chelsea, Zappa is yet to make a significant impression in the hearts of Chelsea fans. After making just 9 appearances in the 2018-19 season (6 of them in the Europa League) so far, it is safe to say that Sarri is not a big fan either. Reports say that Serie A club Lazio are interested in the 26-year-old Italian defender.
So the question is, who is the backup option for Azpi assuming Zappa is leaving soon?
Two names are often rumored on Twitter and other social media. Elseid Hysaj, the right back for Napoli and one of our own, Reece James, the 19-year-old Chelsea loanee who is playing for Wigan Athletic.
Before making any comparisons, let’s assess the situation in which we go out and buy Hysaj. Since there are so many deadwoods in the team and the fact that the club has made profit for the year, we definitely can afford to buy Hysaj. Let’s say we buy him during the summer. What happens next?
Well, Hysaj is a proper first-team player at Napoli and he would sign only if he was given assurance that he would start. That means he would be taking Azpilicueta’s place. Azpi will be forced to make way and play as a centre-back instead. While he did play as a centre-back under Conte and performed reasonably well, that was in a 3-man defense. Under Sarri, the centre-backs are required to make long balls and through-balls often which is not something Azpi is good at. He certainly sent some killer balls to Morata in the past, but those all were from the right-back position. And we can’t put such a talented player on the bench either.
Another point to note is that Hysaj can play both as right-back and left-back. However, I don’t see him getting a nod over Alonso and Emerson. Hysaj does have experience playing under Sarri which could benefit him.
Anyway, I do not see the point in signing Hysaj with the first-team players we already have.
Reece James, the England U-19 player, joined Chelsea at the age of six. Last season, he captained the Chelsea under-18s and won the FA Youth Cup and was named Academy Player of the Season. He’s been on loan for the season 2018-19, playing for Wigan Athletic. Under Paul Cook, Wigan are playing an attractive style of football and Reece is killing it in the Championship.
A look at the stats of both Hysaj and Reece will explain how good Reece actually is.
As you can see, Reece has been very good this season defensively when compared with Hysaj. Of course, both play on different levels and in different leagues. So I suggest you take these stats with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, these stats are impressive. For example, the “Dribbled Past” part suggests that Reece is very good at 1v1 defending.
Let’s look at the offensive part.
Apart from the ‘Long Balls’ portion, Reece dominates Hysaj in almost all other aspects. One thing I noted is that Hysaj averages very low for the number of crosses made per game and Reece puts 1.7 crosses per game on average. While Sarri’s game play is not really dependent on putting crosses and hoping for a miracle, I believe we need some good crosses occasionally. As you might know already, Azpi is not a great crosser either (averages 0.8 crosses per game this season). Reece could really help us in that aspect.
Reece needs to improve pass-success percentage though. Sarri could do some wonders for him in that part.
Moreover, he would be more willing to come off the bench than Hysaj since he is still 19 and could start in the cup games ahead of Azpi too.
Looking at all the stats and scenarios, I believe we should get Reece back from loan and start grooming the kid for the future. Under Sarri’s tutelage and Azpi’s guidance, he can turn into a real badass on the right.
Please leave your comments below and tell me what you think. If you liked the article, don’t forget to read my previous post, an analysis on Christian Pulisic’s possible move to Chelsea.
Written by Sarav
Stats Credit: WhoScored